Silverton residents on Tuesday tried to jam the microwave telecommunications system that connects the town to the outside world to illustrate the technology's limited capacity.
At exactly noon, residents made phone calls and sent e-mails in an effort to overload the microwave link, which provides phone, cell phone and Internet services to the town. Likewise, people outside the town were asked to call or send e-mails to Silverton in an effort to crash the system.
Detailed results of the "stress test" were not immediately available, but some residents reported problems sending e-mail or difficulty accessing the Internet, said Patrick Swonger, a town board member who helped organize the stress test.
"I think we did pretty well at shutting things down from 12 to 12:01 p.m., from what I'm hearing," Swonger said. "It's going to take a little bit to understand exactly what we did."
Karla Safranski, owner of ZE Supply hardware store in Silverton, made two phone calls and sent an e-mail at noon. The phone calls worked fine, she said, but the e-mail failed.
"I was unable to send an e-mail - it just sat there," Safranski said.
The stress test was organized by Operation Linkup, a community group seeking to draw attention to the fact that Silverton is the only county seat in Colorado that is not connected to the fiber-optic backbone.
In 2000, Qwest Communications won a $37 million contract to connect every county seat with fiber optics as part of a statewide initiative to improve public access to courts, offer distance education for students, and bridge the digital divide between rural and urban areas.
Qwest made it as far as Cascade Village, 16 miles from Silverton, before it stopped, saying it could not obtain rights of way all the way to Silverton.
Instead, Qwest relied on a microwave-radio link that provides high-speed connectivity to Silverton, an alternative the state approved.
Swonger said the microwave link works well, but someday it will become obsolete.
High-tech businesses could be prevented from operating in Silverton because of the slow connection, he said.
"Why are we the only one in Colorado not to get the fiber infrastructure that we were promised?" Swonger asked.
He said Qwest deals with rights-of-way issues all the time, and the real reason the company didn't extend fiber to Silverton is because it was costly to traverse the rocky San Juan Mountains.
But Qwest spokeswoman Johnna Hoff said it was an issue of not being able to obtain rights of way. The microwave link was the next best option, she said.
"Qwest's technology solution for the city of Silverton has ample capacity for existing prospects as well as growth prospects down the line," Hoff said. "There is no evidence that we have seen that shows that we are running out of capacity."
Swonger plans to organize a stress test on the 16th of every month to test that capacity. They will be held on the 16th, because 16 is the number of miles separating Silverton from the fiber backbone, he said.
"This is about awareness that we don't have it, we're working to get it, and we're not giving up," he said.